Cosmetic qualms cast aside for safety | VailDaily.com

Cosmetic qualms cast aside for safety

Mark Maynard

I used to subscribe to the theory that helmets were just another sign of the mainstreaming of skiing and boarding, yet another marketing coup of corporate America to get us to fork out even more scratch for “adventure gear”.

That wasn’t for me, I am an old-school skier and prefer to fly down tight chutes with the wind streaming through my unkempt, flowing hair.

Things have changed. “Old school” has turned into just “old” – that unkempt flowing hair is now kempt, and will probably never “flow” again. While I still prefer to fly down tight chutes, I will do so this season – for the first time ever – with my brain stowed inside a bucket.

Does wearing a helmet – notwithstanding the paunch, jelly-legs, near-sighted squint and other accessories of over three decades of life – make me any less a “man of the mountain?” In order to answer that question, I look to historical helmet wearers.

Roman gladiators wore helmets, so did Evel Knievel, Jack Tatum and General George S. Patton. When it comes to high impact activities, the donning of a helmet portrays good sense, not a lack of bravery.

I must admit here that I have yet to wear my helmet on the slopes. It was an off-season acquisition and I have been secretly modeling it in front of the bathroom mirror for weeks.

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It makes my head look ungainly and lopsided, the chinstrap thrusts in between my two chins and the black color does not compliment my eyes – I am a summer, or so they tell me.

I still feel that I will look awkward, even ungainly when out on double black diamond runs. I have no such qualms about my tendencies to raise my ski poles higher than what would be considered natural when stringing together turns on steep slopes nor the fact that my tips often cross with disastrous results when exhausted and out of shape during the first few outings of the season.

My concerns are not solely cosmetic. I am afraid that I will feel claustrophobic or that my senses will not be as keen with my ears and peripheral vision partially obscured. I also tend to overheat rather easily and the thought of being relatively comfortable elsewhere but feeling my head is stuffed inside an inverted crockpot cranked on “high” is not something I cherish.

But then I think of the alternative. How many times have I sold everything in the yard, tumbling headlong down a rock-lined chute and longed to have something protecting my noggin? I have been conked with ski poles, ice balls, snowboards, other heads and a chairlift or two and would have given my right glove to have a helmet on at the time.

So I will suffer for safety this season. However, there is one thing I am curious about the helmet factor. Will it create an artificially high “cajone threshold” and lead me to a feeling of indestructibility because of a false sense of security given me by 3 pounds of plastic?

Will I throw caution to the wind and take unnecessary risks depending completely on a slim shell? In all honesty, it will take more than a helmet to find me mindlessly hucking my body skyward in the nearest terrain park. I will just be a high-poling, wobbly-headed skier on the slopes near you.